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Warbonzee changing its image to reflect the Potawatomi culture

As the new school year begins, students and parents entering Aurora’s Waubongee Valley High School will see a dramatic change in the portrayal of the Potawatomi leader, for whom the school is named.

The 46-by-14-foot mural near the entrance to the Athletic and Activities has been completely redesigned and features a portrait of Chief Warbonsey, based on one of his two known paintings.

For the past 47 years, Warbonsey Valley High School principal Jason Stip said many images within the school, from the school badge to the paintings on the walls, do not reflect the Potawatomi people who lived in the area. Many of the images are “Hollywood” and westernized, with tribal members removing their shirts or wearing headdresses.

Schools are now taking steps to remove artwork that the Native American Cultural Center said was offensive, and it comes at a time when many organizations across the country are making similar moves.

Five years ago, Natalie Freitak, then a Waubonsey Valley student in Aurora, researched the history of school mascots for her English class paper and found that many Native Americans liked the images so used. He said he noticed no.

She pitched a change to Stip, and the school formed an image committee of students and faculty to research the school’s Warriors nickname, and what it meant to the area that Chief Wobonsee and the Potawatomi people called home for hundreds of years. I understand what you mean.

The school opened in 1975, and its school district, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, named each high school to honor the achievements of the Potawatomi people for their community. Nekua Valley High School and Metea Valley High School are named after relatives of Warbonzi.

The Imaging Commission met with researchers from the Citizen Potawatomi National Heritage Center in Oklahoma, along with Dr. John Law, Professor of American Indian Studies at Ohio State University.

“The images do not reflect the first people in the area who were hunter-gatherers. They wore furs and had wigwams rather than tipis. We owe it to you to tell us exactly what life really looked like.”

One of the directors told Stipp that in a perfect world he would consider renaming the high school, but Stipp wants to accurately tell the story of the Potawatomi people first and see where it goes from there. said.

The school’s new mural was designed by Ryan Loft of Plainfield-based Digicom Imaging. Ryan Loft researched the history of Potawatomi for months with his committee students. The mural has an educational stand with a QR code that people can scan to be directed to the Citizen Potawatomi National Heritage Center website.

“A lot of people say they love how this represents a cultural shift in the high school and the community as a whole,” Loft said. “A lot of people have heard of Potawatomi, and it’s the same with casinos. I don’t understand what you were up against.”

Loft printed over 40 panels for the mural and heat-applied them to the wall to give it a painterly texture.

In front of the mural is a curved, river-shaped, LED-lit storyboard depicting the Potawatomi people making quilts, hunting and gathering around a fire.

This mural is the first of many steps to change the image of Native Americans in the school. Stipp hopes the project will be completed by his school’s 50th anniversary in 2025.

The next step is to change the design of the school’s badge, the official said.

Senior Alexandra Skulka, a member of the imaging committee, said it was important to learn about Potawatomi.

“I have had many friends and colleagues have a ‘wow’ moment after reading all the information. Because I didn’t know this was where the Warbonzi came from,” Skulka said. Schaumburg’s Trickster Cultural Center focused on Native American culture.

“It was very interesting to hear about their family culture and traditions,” Skrka said. “Doing research on the Internet is one thing, but meeting people from that culture and hearing their stories is quite another.”

Stipp said he doesn’t want to change the Warriors’ mascot name, but instead wants to rethink the meaning behind it.

“We see how the definition applies to us, and it can fight things as simple as going to school,” Stip said. I worked with a university professor to find out how to associate warriors with their innate ability to persist and persevere, rather than violent language.”

mejones@chicagotribun.com